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Merchants receive warning on accepting out-of-state checks State's attorney notes 'new form of shoplifting'


Harford County merchants are being warned about accepting checks drawn on out-of-state banks after a recent increase in bad-check cases.

The written advisory was based on a "growing trend, a new form of shoplifting where people buy something and knowingly write a bad check to pay for it," said State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly.

"We've had about 100 cases since February, almost all of them involving worthless checks written on closed accounts or on out-of-state bank accounts," Mr. Cassilly said. "We cannot prosecute these cases because we can't get the account status from the banks outside of Maryland."

Privacy laws are different in other states, he said. "In many cases, out-of-state banks tell us they can't or won't provide the information we need to prosecute the criminals here," said Mr. Cassilly.

"I don't know why we're getting so many more of these cases," he said. "Maybe it's because so many new stores -- the big discount stores -- have opened along Interstate 95, making it easy for out-of-state shoppers to slip into Harford, write the bad checks and go back home."

Mr. Cassilly has asked merchants to take more precautions before accepting out-of-state checks. He recommended that they request identification, preferably a driver's license containing a photograph, signature and address.

Merchants should compare the check writer's appearance and signature to the photograph and signature on the identification card, he said.

If the ID has a Maryland address, merchants should ask how long the check writer has lived there, he said.

If the address on the card does not match the address on the check, beware of accepting it, Mr. Cassilly warned.

"It is unusual for someone to move into an area and not transfer their checking account to a local bank," he said.

Mr. Cassilly also suggested that if a check writer has an out-of-state address, merchants consider why someone would travel a long distance to make such a transaction.

A merchant with concerns should ask for additional identification, such as a vehicle registration card or a credit card, he said.

Mr. Cassilly also advised merchants to ask for a home or business telephone number and to verify the writer's information before the sale is completed.

"A merchant will have difficulty serving any kind of court documents on an out-of-state writer of bad checks," he said.

A final rule of thumb, Mr. Cassilly said, is to consider whether the circumstances feel right.

If a merchant accepts a bad check, Mr. Cassilly said he would have to file a civil lawsuit to recover the loss. Legal costs of filing a civil lawsuit and having court documents served often exceed the amount of the loss, he said.

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